Sales Soar at Ramat Aviv Mall, Despite Its Closing on Sabbath

Sales at the Ramat Aviv Mall soared by 8 percent last year to NIS 700 million, up from NIS 650 million in 2003, according to figures released this week by the mall's owner, Africa Israel.

Sales per square meter at the north Tel Aviv mall rose to $740 per month, up from $670 in 2003. Some of the increase stemmed from the weakening of the dollar, but it nevertheless cements Ramat Aviv's position as the mall with the second-highest level of sales per square meter in Israel. Only Eilat's Mul Hayam Mall has a higher level, with sales of more than $1,000 per month per square meter.

Ramat Aviv's achievement is particularly impressive given that when it was first purchased by Africa Israel, and the company's religiously observant owner, Lev Leviev, decided to close it on Shabbat in keeping with Jewish law, there were loud predictions throughout the business community that the mall would be unable to compete with nearby malls that do open on Shabbat.

According to Africa Israel, 33 percent of the mall's revenues in 2004 came from fashion stores, 24 percent from its anchor stores - Zara, Super-Pharm and Hamashbir Lazarchan - 7 percent from restaurants, 7 percent from silver and jewelry stores, 7 percent from shoe stores and the remainder from other stores.

The top revenue earners per square meter were the jewelry stores, with revenues of more than $2,000 a month per square meter. Last year, the mall added jewelry stores.

Benny Cohen, the head of Africa Israel's mall division, said that just 40 percent of the Ramat Aviv Mall's clients are locals; the rest come from nearby towns such as Herzliya, Ra'anana and Ramat Hasharon, and even from as far away as Ashdod. He acknowledged that the competition facing the mall will increase once the nearby Givatayim Mall opens.

According to Cohen, there are two keys to a successful mall: Attracting popular foreign stores unavailable at other malls, which persuades people to come even if there is a mall closer to their home, and "making people feel comfortable, because then, they spend more money."

Last year, the average customer at Ramat Aviv spent NIS 250.

Africa Israel is considering expanding one of its other malls, the Savyonim Mall in Yehud. Cohen said that the company has begun planning the expansion, but has not yet begun applying for the necessary permits.

The Savyonim Mall currently covers 6,500 square meters and is considered one of the most profitable malls in Israel, with revenues of NIS 220 million overall in 2003 and sales of $617 per month per square meter. Cohen said that overall revenues (in shekels) in 2004 were about the same, but that sales per square meter rose to about $700 a month due to the dollar's decline.